Tapeworm Infection

1 What is Tapeworm Infection?

Tapeworm infection is caused by ingestion of contaminated food and water through eggs and larvae.

The tapeworm eggs migrate outside intestines, form larval cysts in body tissues and organs (invasive infection).

The larva develops into adult tapeworm in intestine (intestinal infection). An adult tapeworm consists of head, neck, and chain of segments called proglottids.

The tape worm attaches to the wall of intestine by its head. Proglottids grow and produce eggs.

Adult tapeworms can live up to 30 years. Intestinal tapeworm infections are usually mild but invasive larval infections causes systemic complications.

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2 Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type of tapeworm infection. Many people have no symptoms. 

Depending on the type of larval ingestion severity of symptoms vary.

Symptoms of intestinal infection include:

  • Nausea,
  • weakness,
  • loss of appetite,
  • abdominal pain,
  • diarrhea,
  • weight loss and inadequate absorption of nutrients from food.

Larva migrates out of the intestines and forms cysts in other organs where it can damage or cause different complications.

Symptoms of invasive infestation include:

  • Fever,
  • cystic lumps,
  • allergic reaction,
  • bacterial infections
  • and neurological symptoms like seizures.

3 Causes

Common causes of tapeworm infection are intake of tapeworm eggs or larvae.

Eating food or water contaminated with feces from a person or animal with tapeworm results in invasive infection.

With such food people ingest microscopic tapeworm eggs. Once they are inside the body, eggs develop into larva and forms cysts in different tissues and organs.

Ingestion undercooked meat results in intestinal infection because the animal may have larvae in the muscle tissue.

These larvae develop into adult tapeworm in the intestines and attach themselves to the wall of intestines where they cause mild irritation and inflammation. 

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of tapeworm infection is done by the following tests:

  • Stool sample analysis: Checking for eggs or segments in stool using special laboratory techniques.
  • Blood test: Checking for antibodies against tapeworm.
  • Imaging exam: CT, MRI, X-ray or ultrasound scans may be recommended to confirm tapeworm infestation.

5 Treatment

Tapeworm infection may have no symptoms at all and therefore people do not use any medication treatment.

In other cases, tapeworm exits the body on its own with stools. Treatment of intestinal infection include medications like:

  • Praziquantel,
  • Albendazole
  • and Mebendazole.

Medicines should be taken strictly according to the schedule. To be sure that tapeworm infection has cleared completely, stool samples are checked.

Treatment of invasive infections are:

  • Antihelminthic drugs to shrink the helminthes,
  • Anti-inflammatory therapy to reduce the symptoms,
  • Anti-epileptic therapy to stop seizures,
  • Shunt placement - placing permanent tube in the head to drain the fluid in case of hydrocephalus development and Surgery to remove the cysts.  

6 Prevention

The following preventive measure should be taken for tapeworm infection:

  • washing hands with soap regularly
  • proper and regular bathing,
  • washing all fruits and vegetables before cooking,
  • proper disposal of animal and human feces,
  • proper cooking of meat at minimum 52 C,
  • freezing meat for at least 12 hours
  • and avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle after getting tapeworm infection should be changed in the following ways:

  • following proper hygiene,
  • avoid eating undercooked meat or fish
  • and washing all fruits and vegetables before eating.

8 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with tapeworm infection.

Factors that may increase the risk of contracting tapeworm infection are:

  • poor hygiene like improper and infrequent bathing and washing,
  • improper disposal of human and animal feces,
  • travelling to developing countries,
  • eating raw or undercooked meats
  • and living in endemic areas like Latin America, China or sub-Saharan Africa.

Complications in the case of tapeworm infection are uncommon but untreated cases may lead to:

  • Blockage of digestive tract- large tapeworms often block the lumen of Appendix (appendicitis),
  • bile ducts (Cholesteric disease),
  • pancreatic duct (pancreatitis).

CNS impairment

This most dangerous complication called as neurocysticercosis is manifested by

Organ dysfunction

When larvae migrate and form cysts in different organs, they impair their function or reduce blood supply. It may also lead to allergic reactions. In severe cases, transplantation may be needed.   

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